"Play is our brain's favourite way of learning."
While the benefits of quality play are many and varied, they can be generally categorised under:
• Cognitive / Intellectual
• Social, emotional and overall well-being
The different benefits of play overlap in all sorts of ways, for example, children who have the opportunity to play in an enriched play environment are much more ‘ready to learn’ in a classroom due to a range of physical, cognitive and social/emotional factors.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of expanded play opportunities are the physical benefits from the development of gross and fine motor skills, balance skills, hand-eye co-ordination and increased levels of physical activity and fitness.
Another important benefit of play is the development of the sensory system – including proprioceptive (body position and movement) and vestibular (head position and balance) senses, as well as tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory (smell) and even at times, gustatory (taste) senses.
We sometimes receive requests for a ‘sensory garden/playground/play space’ and it is great that there is awareness of the importance of sensory input and development of the sensory system. Our approach to play space development, however is to ensure sensory opportunities are integrated seamlessly into the play space, rather than as a separate area, because receiving sensory input is not a separate experience to that of playing – play is one of the most wonderful ways a child can receive the sensory input they require.
Cognitive / Intellectual
Quality play experiences provide an extensive variety of intellectual and cognitive development opportunities, including:
• Problem-solving skills / risk assessment & risk management skills
• Planning and sequencing skills
• Design & construction skills
• Organisational skills
• Language skills
• Executive function skills (e.g. self-control)
Being able to think ‘outside the box’ requires practice at approaching challenging and fun situations again and again in different ways – playing in an enriched play environment provides this opportunity.
Creativity is born from such experiences. Creativity is important for innovation in the hard sciences as well as the arts, in creating music, visual art, drama. Without creativity we would not have new innovations in computer technology, medical science, etc.
Social, emotional and overall well-being
There are a multitude of social, emotional and well-being benefits that children gain through quality play experiences. These include fostering resilience, developing emotional intelligence, opportunities to experience ‘flow’ and the development of self-efficacy.
Resilience: being able to keep going when things get tough, is an important skill to develop and can support children and young people in all areas of life – at home, in the classroom, on the sporting field and in their early work experiences. Therefore, having the opportunity to approach a variety of challenges, and sometimes only succeed with repeated attempts or trying alternatives is vital.
Sometimes not being able to do something, even with persistence, is an important life lesson.
While play often involves plenty of smiling, laughing, chatting happily (all of which are important in releasing dopamine), other aspects such as turn-taking, co-operation and negotiation are often developed through exploring boundaries, which can at times be argumentative, but important as friendship development often includes the opportunity for some conflict and resolution. Play also supports the development of empathy and emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is important in interpersonal interactions, particularly in resolving conflict. Providing experiences where children interact with others in ‘real life’ situations (play is very real for children), experiencing a range of emotional states, is critical.
A classroom is a wonderful opportunity to teach a myriad of skills, but it is through play that children are given the most wonderful opportunity for learning about themselves, about those around them, and developing their ability to respond appropriately to various people’s needs. This is becoming an increasing need for children, given the escalating use of screens, where some children are having very limited real-life interactions with others, and therefore are having fewer opportunities to ‘read’ the emotions of others, to see the impact their words or actions are having on those around them, or to practice responding to their peers.
Enriched play environments will also provide opportunities for children to enter a state of ‘flow’ (also known as ‘just right challenge’) which is important for well-being. Flow is being in a state where you are so fully engaged, or immersed, in an activity that it is your sole focus and you lose track of time. In our busy, highly structured lives, it is essential to have times of flow.
Play is an activity where the children make the decisions about what they are going to do and how they will do it.
Being able to have control like this within the play setting assists in the development of self-efficacy – a belief in one’s ability to make a difference in the world around them.
Appropriate supervision of play spaces is a critical determinant of the quality of the play and an enabler to many of the social and emotional benefits. It is widely known that issues regarding duty of care and health & safety are important, but there is often less focus on the equally important consideration of whether supervision and ‘rules’ for play smother and restrict, or enhance and support, important opportunities for growth – especially in the areas of social, emotional and well-being. Our approach to play supervision is guided by “The Playwork Principles” as developed by the Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group (2005).
Not Just Fresh Air and Exercise - Play Australia
If you would like more information about any of the above, please contact us.